A Taste of Editable Feces

  • Herman Melville devoted an entire chapter of Moby Dick to the substance. The Chinese believed it to be dragon spittle hardened by the sea. Ambergris (that’s French for gray amber) is an opaque, hardened orb that floats for months or years at sea, until its waxy mass washes up ashore. It has have sometimes been described, inaccurately, as sperm whale vomit. Ambergris comes out the other end—the cetacean approximation of a human gallbladders stone, formed in a whale stomach as a protective barrier around sharp, indigestible squid beaks, and then excreted.

    Of all the world’s feces, ambergris may be the only one prized as an ingredient in fragrances, cocktails and medicines. It’s eaten, too. Persian sherbets once included ambergris along with water and lemon. Casanova apparently added it to his chocolate mousse as an aphrodisiac. French gastronome Brillat-Savarin recommended a shilling’s worth of ambergris in a tonic of chocolate and sugar, which he claimed would render life more easy, like coffee without the restless sleeplessness.


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